PHOENIX - For the only time this season, Troy Smith was in a stadium and refused to take center stage.
The Heisman Trophy-winning Ohio State quarterback declined to do more than introduce teammate Doug Datish on Sunday before more than 35,000 scarlet-clad fans who filed into Chase Field for a rousing "Buckeye Bash."
The free event, put on by the university's alumni association, was designed to pump up fans - and raise money - heading into the BCS national championship game against Florida tonight.
"When you get a national championship game, you get a great following," said Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman winner and now in charge of the alumni association. "Even coming over on the plane, I came across a lot of people who didn't have tickets. I figured if they don't get to the game at least they can come to the Buckeye Bash."
The crowd rivaled the size of a 2004 rally featuring President Bush, said Charles T. Johnson, who books and produces events at the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Before the program began, highlights of the 2002 national championship season were shown on the huge video board in center field. Figuring prominently in the production was running back Maurice Clarett, a one-season star who now is serving at least 3<MD+,%30,%55,%70>1/<MD-,%0,%55,%70>2 years at the Toledo Correctional Institution on robbery and gun charges.
Athletic director Gene Smith led the fans in chants of "O-H, I-O!" before introducing six-year coach Jim Tressel, who is seeking to lead the Buckeyes to their second national title in five years.
Tressel introduced Datish to the fans, but Troy Smith - who had yet to be introduced - grabbed the microphone before the big center could get to it.
"Who are you?" Tressel said into the mike while the crowd laughed and then applauded.
The quarterback then called Datish "this year's MVP in my heart" as he called him to speak. The players then threw tiny footballs into the stands before departing.
Tressel spoke briefly to the crowd and asked fans to take over University of Phoenix Stadium tonight.
"Everyone in our group will understand the difficulty and the challenge that we have tomorrow night," Tressel said, his voice echoing through the mammoth stadium, which had its roof opened on a sunny, warm day. "Thank goodness we have all of you. We need you to take over that stadium."
The event cost almost $82,000, almost all of it underwritten by sponsors. The cost for renting Chase Field was almost $67,000. Even though there was no charge for admission, concession stands were open and there were booths and vendors throughout the stadium selling Buckeyes T-shirts, necklaces, hats and sweat shirts.
About 20,000 scarlet-and-gray pom-pons and "Go Bucks" placards were handed out to fans as they entered the stadium in downtown Phoenix.
Fans had begun lining up hours before the gates opened, some tossing footballs back and forth while killing time. On the 7th Street overpass adjoining the stadium, 46 luxury buses were parked on the shoulder after disgorging fans.